Members of a nonprofit group who have their offices aboard a World War II cargo ship docked in San Pedro sued a couple for allegedly misrepresenting that they could finance the $860,000 cost to repair some of the vessel’s boilers.
The United States Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II Inc. filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Gregory P. Williams and his wife, Christal L. Dunn.
The suit’s allegations include false promise and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The complaint filed Friday seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Williams and Dunn could not be immediately reached for comment.
The suit states that the plaintiffs have their office aboard the S.S. Lane Victory, a 455-foot World War II Victory-class cargo shop built in Los Angeles in 1945. The vessel served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the suit states.
During the Korean conflict, about 7,000 refugees were rescued from Wonson, Korea, aboard the ship and some 3,800 troops were evacuated onto the craft from Hungnam, North Korea, while under fire, the suit states.
President Ronald Reagan signed a law conveying the ship to the plaintiffs in 1988 and it was preserved to serve as a museum in San Pedro the next year, the suit states. The vessel is designated as a national historic landmark, according to the complaint.
One of the plaintiffs’ engineers said in October 2014 that portions of the Lane Victory’s boilers needed repair, the suit states. Williams and Dunn represented themselves as respected community members with assets worth millions of dollars, the suit states. Dunn said she had a master’s degree in global economics, that she was a skilled fund-raiser and that she had funded more than $38 million in grants, the suit states.
Williams and Dunn both expressed interest in the Lane Victory and said they wanted to become involved in its operations, the suit states.
In January 2014, Williams, who had been serving as president of the group’s board of directors, was given the paid position of executive director the next month and tasked with raising funds, the suit states.
Williams later fired the plaintiffs’ longtime accountant and replaced her with his wife, according to the complaint. Dunn later was elected to the board of directors and as treasurer, the suit states.
During an April 2015 board meeting, Williams and Dunn said they were in receipt of $750,000 to be used toward repairing the ship’s boilers, the suit states. In reliance on the couple’s assurances, the group advanced $100,535 to a contractor hired to make the boiler repairs, the suit states.
Dunn and Williams resigned last September and the contractor halted work on the project due to lack of full payment, the suit states.
Despite resigning, Williams and Dunn continued to assure the plaintiffs as recently as January that they would fund the boiler repair costs, the suit states. However, the money was never turned over, the suit states.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs contacted an attorney for Williams and Dunn in April to try and resolve the dispute, but the couple’s lawyer replied, “If you have any valid claims against either (Dunn or Williams) you may bring them and we will defend them,” the suit states.
— City News Service